When the Layoff Comes; Some Strategies to Ward off Pink-Slip blues.(FAMILY TIMES)

Article excerpt

Byline: Karen Goldberg Goff,THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Alan Carter could see layoffs were coming at the Northern Virginia high-tech company where he worked. In June when office morale was dipping lower and it finally was his turn to be handed a pink slip, he was somewhat relieved. Three months later, Mr. Carter, the sole breadwinner for his family of four, has been alternately bored, anxious, hopeful and fed up. His summer was spent working on two projects - finding a job and reworking the family ledger to make sure his modest severance package stretched as far as it could.

Gone are dinners out and a fancy vacation. In are coupon clipping and networking for a potential job lead.

The scene in Mr. Carter's house is similar to that in many families around the region, as thousands of jobs in the telecommunications industry have been eliminated in the past 18 months.

"The first thing I did was go through my Palm Pilot and write down every single person I knew," says Mr. Carter, a pseudonym for a Northern Virginia man who signed a confidentiality agreement with his employer upon taking his severance package. "I had five or six pages of people to call to network with. What I found was of my friends in the software and telecommunications industry, about 80 percent had been laid off at least once in the last two years. I had one lunch set up with a friend to inquire about working at his company, but he just called to cancel. He was laid off, too."

Mr. Carter is in good company, but it is hard not to take a job loss personally. Losing a job can mean damaged self-esteem, tension in relationships and, in many cases, panic over how the bills will get paid.

"The reality is, you shouldn't take it personally," says Nancy Collamer, a Connecticut career counselor whose husband was laid off last year. "But being unemployed is among the top five stressors in life. Our identity is very much wrapped up in our work. There is a whole emotional side to losing your job. You lose your routine. You lose your support system. It affects everything, and you need to understand that."

After the initial shock wears off, some steps should be taken to get a handle on the situation, Ms. Collamer says. These steps might not lead to a new job any sooner, but they may help families feel like they are in control of the situation.

"Sit down and say, 'What can I do something about?'" she advises.

The first item: Take a hard look at the financial situation. That begins with reviewing the separation package and signing any papers for severance pay and health insurance coverage. Then look at where expenses can be cut.

Mr. Carter had money in the bank and four months of severance pay, but he, his wife and two young children still had to re-evaluate their spending this summer.

"We have not gone out to eat," he says. "We reduced our cell phone plan. It was nice to realize how much money we were spending on junk."

Angela Morris, 43, of Sterling, Va., was laid off twice from high-tech jobs in 2001. Even with a part-time consulting business and income from her husband's job, she says she was in "such financial straits."

"I came up with a worst-case scenario," says Ms. Morris, who six months ago took a new job for 25 percent less pay. "I have a condo that I rent out, and I thought at the very worse, we could move into it. We gave up the cleaning lady. We said we would give ourselves a certain number of months to see how things went. My car was paid off, but I thought about selling it. It is so easy for experts to say we all should have three to six months of expenses set aside, but that is really difficult to do."

Communication is another key point to getting through the situation, Ms. Collamer says. That means talking with family members and with others in a similar situation.

Judy Mueller, director of the Women's Center, a Vienna personal and career counseling center, says even young children should be told about the situation. …